John Petrillo

Executive Director

John has over 15 years of experience in the experiential and outdoor education field as an educator, facilitator, and researcher. He has led over a dozen semester-at-sea expeditions with the Ocean Classroom Foundation and most recently designed and ran the urban youth development sailing program at Rocking the Boat in the South Bronx, NY. He believes in the transformational power of experiential and outdoor learning and is passionate about increasing access to such programs in urban and under-served communities. John holds a B.S. in Social History from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.A. in American Civilization from Brown University, and an M.A. in Education from Rutgers University, as well as a USCG Master’s license for vessels up to 100 tons. 

Donna Hoffman

Finance Director

Donna Hoffman joined Project U.S.E. in spring of 1994 as Bookkeeper and Executive Secretary to Phil Costello.  After enjoying 8 years working side by side with Phil, Sarah and staff, she left when due with her second child and to dedicate more time with her family.  With an educational background in accounting and business, Donna was working part-time bookkeeping before happily returning to Project U.S.E. in July 2006 as Finance Director.  She has three children and is very involved in their schools and activities, volunteering over the years with school boards, PTA programs, and Treasurer roles.

Jeff Key

Director of Operations

Jeff Key has worked with various non-profits in education in Newark over the past 10 years, including Citizen Schools and New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project (NJ LEEP).  While at Citizen Schools, he helped to coordinate high-quality after-school programming for students at Ivy Hill Elementary School and manage a mock trial program for middle school students in partnership with the Women’s Initiative of McCarter & English, LLP.  At NJ LEEP, he was involved in managing law-related education programming for students from Newark, Trenton, and Camden as well as serving as Director of Operations for two years.  

He is excited to support Project U.S.E.’s mission to expose more students to experiential learning to develop leadership skills and positive character. He is a founding board member of the New Jersey chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, which encourages engagement, advocacy, and improved professional development for young nonprofit professionals across the country.  Jeff is a graduate of Princeton University and Seton Hall University School of Law.

Jen Reich

Director, Boat Building & Pedal Farmers

Jen Reich, a life-long tree hugger, studied Environmental Science at Cook College, Rutgers University.  Her first job was as a Recycling Educator for the Borough of Brooklyn in NYC, and also worked in the Urban Tree House of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan introducing kids who had rarely left the city to environmental challenges.  Jen then left Brooklyn for the Rockies of Colorado to live in a cabin with no running water or electricity.   Upon returning to NJ, she needed to find a job that encompassed her love of nature and working with kids.  In June of 1999 Jen had the privilege to begin working with Phil Costello and Project USE.  For 6 years she worked as the Resource Coordinator then Director of Operations and occasionally and as needed the Wildcat Director.  She can honestly say they were the best and most productive years of her life. In 2006 she spent a year interning on Evening Rain Farm in Hawaii, a permaculture and sustainable living experiment where she worked on several natural building projects and grew or raised most of her food.  In 2008 she became a Director of the Foodshed Alliance, helping coordinate a local seasonal farmer’s market, farm to table dinners and most importantly advocate for farmers in the region.  In 2010 she began 5 years of work as an administrator for the YMCA. In the summer of 2017 she was proud to come full circle and rejoin the Project USE family, bringing her back to her roots and what she considers the most important work in the world.

Tracy Semar

Wildcat Mountain Wilderness Center Director

Tracy Semar joined the Project U.S.E. family in the spring of 2011 as a Field Instructor. A life-long tree-hugger, Tracy grew up in New York and eventually attended Queens College where she received her BA in Psychology and Studio Arts. After graduation, she set out to fulfill her dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Upon her return, she was disillusioned with everyday life and missed the connection she had with the outdoors. By a stroke of good fortune, Tracy discovered work in the Outdoor Education field and she has never looked back. Through her work, she has been able to connect her love of nature with her passion for education. She is always on the look-out for her next adventure.

Carl Schmidt

Special Projects Director

Carl Schmidt was introduced to experiential education while taking classes through Washington State University in the late 1980’s. By 1995 he decided to give the industry a go and signed on with a challenge course construction company in New Jersey. Three years later Carl was asked by an industry friend to be part of a growing business opportunity in Long Island, New York and accepted. The next five years were spent developing a successful challenge course company with his good friend and founder. They went on to earn a Level III accreditation with the Association of Challenge Course Technology. With their goals achieved and his commitments over on Long Island, Carl settled back into New Jersey to become the Director of Special Projects at Project U.S.E. in 2003.

Carl attended Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania before starting his military career with the United States Air Force in 1985. He’s been in the industry for twelve years delivering full challenge course services throughout the east coast, in the mid-west and overseas.

Bob Goger

Professional Development Consultant

Bob Goger has long been associated with Project U.S.E., first as a volunteer and board member; then more recently coming aboard to help us expand our adult training programs. After working as a teacher and social worker in Puerto Rico and New York City, Bob returned to his native New Jersey to assume training and management positions in the State Departments of Health and Education. Among the original group of counselors to receive certification as a Substance Awareness Coordinator, he helped develop the first wave of student assistance programs in local districts throughout the state. More recently he has served as a SAC and Student Services Coordinator for the Montclair Schools.

Bob is a graduate of Fordham University (BA & MA); a biker (‘unmotored’); and a harried part-time beekeeper. He also spends some time each week at the Y as a certified fitness instructor and ropes course facilitator.

Emily Lavallee

Experiential Education Coordinator, Boat Building & Pedal Farmers

Emily Lavallee grew up attending and then later worked at a sleep away camp on a lake, where she was first introduced to experiential learning. She went on to study Environmental Studies and Political Science at Seton Hall University. While at Seton Hall, Emily volunteered on an organic farm in Greece and worked with urban agriculture at Newark Science and Sustainability. Through working on a rural and then urban farm, Emily discovered her love of growing and eating food. She is excited to join Project U.S.E. and provide students with the opportunity to learn in new ways.